The November 6 gubernatorial election in Anambra State is not just a litmus test of the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct free and fair elections in volatile climes, but also a test of security measures the country has in place to arrest precarious situations.
The agitation for an independent State of Biafra has turned violent in the south-east region in recent times, especially among members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
The situation is even more serious in Imo and Anambra states, where security formations are constantly being attack by ‘unknown gunmen.’
The group have vowed that the election in Anambra will not hold unless their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is released unconditionally from custody on or before November 4, as they promised to put the entire southeast on a lockdown between November 5 to November 11, 2021.
IPOB has allegedly warned residents of Anambra state to remain indoors for the duration of the sit-at-home order for their own safety.
IPOB weekly sit-at-home orders have always been adhered to for fear of being assaulted. Those who breached past orders have paid dearly. They were either shot dead or had their business premises razed.
However, IPOB’s media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, is insisting that the lockdown of the Southeast from November 5 to 10 has nothing to do with the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, rather, government’s failure to release Nnamdi Kanu.
Powerful, in a statement accused the government of deliberately linking IPOB to Anambra election in order to hijack the election and give it to a stooge.
Despite the threat by IPOB, the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, is confident that the situation in Anambra state is conducive to hold a hitch-free election.
Yakub hinged his confidence on reports from the security agency in the state, particularly the state Commissioner of Police as well as the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state.
He said the commission is fully prepared for the election as it has successfully completed 12 out of the 14 activities listed in the timetable and schedule of activities for the election.
He assured that INEC has recovered from the series of attacks on its facilities and has deployed all the non-sensitive materials to all the local government areas.
One wonders how INEC intends to boost voters’ confidence in the run up to the election and have them trooping out to their polling units on November 6.
What gives the INEC chairman the impression that voters will defy this November 5-10 sit-at-home order by IPOB and risk their lives to come and cast votes?
The federal government should not take the IPOB threat lightly as the success of the Anambra election is a collective responsibility of all. Government must therefore allow room for stakeholders’ engagement in order to reach a compromise before November 6.
INEC may have to replay the 2015 scenario when President Goodluck Jonathan had to delay the presidential election by six weeks in order for the military to secure the northeast from Boko Haram and guarantee the safety of voters in that region.
President Buhari may have to also delay this election and get the southeast governors and key leaders in the region to dialogue with Kanu in order to avert the impending disaster.
We enjoin IPOB to heed the voice of reason and allow Anambarians exercise their civil rights of electing their leaders as only then can they determine their socio-political future.
They must also realise that the five-day lockdown will not only affect the economy of the state, but also bring untold hardship to the people who are mostly entrepreneurs.
Anambra people should also understand that boycotting the election is a call for anarchy in the state, because in a democratic setting, when you block elections, you give room for all manner of crises.
Apprehensive electorate must be assured of their safety for them to turn out to cast their votes in the election.
INEC in partnership with security agencies should therefore ensure that the polling units are properly secured and accessible to the electorate.
There should also be massive deployment of security personnel to all the nooks and crannies of the state to ensure safety of all.
The commission will also do well to transmit results of the election electronically, as part of safety measures for INEC staff.
Meanwhile, security arrangement for the election is top notch, with security action plan expected to revolve around units of the Mobile Police Force.
Already, 2 Deputy Inspectors General of Police have been drafted to Anambra to be assisted by 5 Assistant Inspectors General of Police, 14 Commissioners of Police, 31 Deputy Commissioners of Police, and 48 Assistant Commissioners of Police.
Also earmarked for deployment for the election are 34,587 operatives who would consist of conventional police officers, Police Mobile Force, the Counter Terrorism Unit, Special Forces, Explosive Ordnance Unit, Force Intelligence Bureau, INTERPOL, Special Protection Unit and a medical team.
Three helicopters would be deployed for aerial surveillance while detachments of Marine Police operatives would also be deployed to ensure safe, secure and credible electoral process in riverine areas.